Marin-Inspired Recipes for your Perfect Summer Picnic

When it comes to summer entertaining, the festivities naturally spill outdoors. Alfresco is the name of the game when it’s time to chill with your friends, enjoy good food and imbibe colorful drinks. The big question is where? Shall you picnic at the beach, host a backyard barbecue or dine on the patio of your favorite restaurant? With the abundance of nature, beaches and good eats in Marin, why not do it all?

We did just that, combining all these venues into one at a beach home in Tiburon and inviting a few of our favorite Marin chefs to an afternoon picnic, potluck-style (we are no fools). We fired up the grill, lit a bonfire on the beach, provided music and toys, and stocked a Marin-sourced beverage bar with bubbles, mixers and spirits. Tasked with specific courses, we let our chef-friends work their magic and bring their locally inspired cuisine to this fabulous backyard. With a retro Frito pie, farmers’ market salads, a luscious berry crumble, smoky baby back ribs and a super-size slab sandwich, washed down with craft cocktails, there was something for everyone, and the living could not have been easier.

So go ahead and plan a picnic by the beach or in your backyard. Invite your friends and your kids’ BFFs. Ask everyone to bring a dish or a bottle. Set a theme if you like and ask for starters, salads, mains and dessert. Lucky for us, the chefs at our soiree shared their recipes, so you can re-create their dishes at home for your next outdoor party. Use them for inspiration and everyone will be in for a treat. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.

Berry Crisp, Watermelon Salad, summer potluck


Green Chile Kitchen, San Rafael
Owner Ted Razatos and Chef Justin Diehl

A little bit nacho, a little bit retro, this food truck– inspired appetizer from San Rafael’s Green Chile Kitchen is almost as much fun to assemble as it is to eat. Ted Razatos notes that his native New Mexican cuisine is distinguished by the use of the red and green chiles grown in his home state. We tasted GCK’s sweet and smoky New Mexico chile sauce and are ready to relocate, so take the extra step to make the sauce for this party-size Frito extravaganza. And be sure to pass the napkins.

New Mexico Red Chile Sauce
1 (4-ounce) bag New Mexico red chile pods
1 cup hot water
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon salt

Frito Pie
4 (1-ounce) bags Frito corn chips, plus more for serving
2 cups cooked organic pinto beans
8 to 12 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese
12 ounces ground beef (hormone- and antibiotic-free),
browned and seasoned in a skillet
1 and 1/2 cups New Mexican red chile sauce (see recipe)
2 cups thinly sliced organic romaine hearts, shredded
1 cup fresh pico de gallo
Sour cream and fresh cilantro, to garnish

You will need enough pods to fill a blender. Run each chile pod, one at a time, under warm to hot running water. Remove the stems and rinse out the seeds and place the pods in a blender. When the blender is full add the hot water, garlic and salt. Blend until you no longer see pepper flakes on the side of the blender. Add more garlic or salt to taste and add more water as needed to achieve a gravy consistency.


Cut each bag of Fritos lengthwise down one side. Pour half the Fritos from each bag into a shallow, wide serving bowl. Nestle the bags, cut side up, in the bowl. Building upward, scoop the beans over the Fritos. Sprinkle the cheese over the beans, and spread the ground beef over the cheese. (The cheese will melt on its own.) Cover the ground beef with a generous amount of red chile sauce. Garnish the tops with lettuce and a scoop of pico de gallo. Add sour cream and cilantro, if desired. Serve immediately.

Chicken Slab Sandwich, Baby back ribs, summer potluck


MH Bread & Butter, San Anselmo
Chef Arielle Giusto

This slab sandwich was created by Arielle Giusto for MH Bread & Butter and includes avocado, radish, pickled onions and adobo aioli. The dense ciabattastyle bread, named “Bianca” by baker and co-owner Nathan Yanko, is appropriately supersized for a crowd. It’s a terrific way to serve a party and makes a great centerpiece. Make the sauce and marinate the chicken 1 day before serving.

Adobo Sauce (yields about 1 quart)
7 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded

3 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
4 cloves garlic
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
½ cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
½ tablespoon Mexican oregano

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 loaf MH Bread & Butter “Bianca” bread, halved
Sliced avocado
Thinly sliced red radishes
Pickled red onions

Place the dried chiles in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil until the chiles are soft and pliant. Transfer the chiles, ½ cup cooking liquid, and the remaining adobo ingredients to a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, adding more cooking liquid as needed to achieve a thick sauce consistency. Transfer the sauce to a large saucepan and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Set aside ¼ cup sauce for the aioli.

Place the chicken breasts in a large bowl. Add adobo sauce to the bowl and thoroughly coat the chicken. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and season with salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Combine the ¼ cup reserved adobo sauce, the mayonnaise, lemon zest and ¼ teaspoon salt in a bowl. Refrigerate until use.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the oven until thoroughly cooked. Remove and cool slightly, then thinly slice.

Spread half the aioli on the bottom half of the bread. Arrange the chicken over the bread and top with the avocado, radishes and onions. Spread the remaining aioli on the top half of the bread and close the sandwich. Cut into serving portions.

Marin Summer Potluck


Pig in a Pickle, Corte Madera
Chef Damon Stainbrook

When it comes to ribs, it’s all about the bark, which Damon Stainbrook achieves by rubbing his pork ribs with a spice rub and dry-brining the ribs, unwrapped, in the refrigerator. As the ribs brine, the salt in the rub will pull moisture to the surface of the meat, which will then be drawn back into the meat, along with the salt. Meanwhile, the spices will adhere to the ribs and form into a nice bark during the grilling process. If you have a smoker at home, then use it; otherwise a charcoal kettle grill or a gas grill and a smoker box will do the trick. These ribs are very portable. Precook them at home; then before serving, just fire up a grill, baste with barbecue sauce and give them a quick sear to crisp them up.

Spice Rub (dry brine)
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup plus 5 tablespoons sweet paprika
L cup kosher salt
5 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon any other herbs or spices you may prefer

3 to 4 baby back pork ribs

Combine the rub ingredients in a bowl. Coat the ribs on all sides with the rub. Place on a rimmed baking tray lined with parchment paper and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 3 hours or overnight. Prepare a kettle charcoal grill or gas grill for indirect cooking over low heat (225°F). If using a kettle grill, start a pound of lump charcoal in a small pile on one side of the kettle. Add a few wood chunks, such as hickory, oak, pecan or apple. Place one rack of ribs on the opposite side of the grill away from the fire. Adjust air vents to allow the fire to burn steadily and check temperature by sticking a thermometer in the top air vent in the lid. If using a gas grill and a smoker box, add one handful of presoaked wood chips to the smoker box, following manufacturer’s instructions. Close the lid. When the wood begins to smoke, place the ribs over indirect low heat. Grill the ribs over indirect low heat until tender, about 3½ hours, adding a few wood chunks every hour or a handful of presoaked wood chips to the smoker box every 30 minutes or so. To check for doneness, pick the ribs up with tongs 3 to 4 ribs down the rack. Hold them bone side up — the weight of the rib should make them bend backwards, and they should be just starting to peel off the bone. (Ribs should not be falling off the bone, but should pull off gently with a little bite left in them.) If you are going to sauce the ribs, brush the ribs with the sauce during the last few minutes of grilling. Remove the ribs from the grill and let rest 10 to 15 minutes. Slice and serve with sauce on the side.

Mild Barbecue Sauce (yields about 1K quarts)
1½ cups ketchup
1¼ cups water
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons corn syrup
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons tomato paste
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup unsulfured molasses
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1½ teaspoons tamari
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cool. Cover and store the sauce in the refrigerator until use.

Salad, Summer Potluck


Más Masa, Fairfax
Chef Patrick Sheehy
Más Masa’s vegan salad is based on the traditional milpa Mesomerican farming technique where beans, corn and squash (the “three sisters”) are grown together. As the corn grows tall, it provides a structure for the bean vines, and the leaves provide shade for the squash. The beans add nitrogen to the soil and promote the growth of the corn. When beans, corn and squash are eaten together they create a protein source rich in vitamins.

Jamaican Vinaigrette (yields about 1½ cups)
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup water
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup Jamaica (hibiscus) flowers
1 cup sunflower oil
¾ teaspoon salt

2 bunches lacinato kale, cut in chiffonade
½ cup finely diced Persian cucumber
½ cup corn hominy
½ cup cooked and drained heirloom beans
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
Fresh lemon juice

¾ cup cubed roasted acorn squash
½ cup Peruvian popcorn, toasted*
¼ cup puffed amaranth*
*May be found in most health food stores and grocery
stores such as Good Earth and Whole Foods.

Combine the vinegar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar and the Jamaica flowers and steep for 10 minutes. Strain out the flowers and cool the liquid in an ice bath. Add the oil and salt and whisk until emulsified. (The vinaigrette may be stored in a container for up to one week in the refrigerator. If it separates, simply shake the container to remix before use.)

Combine the kale, cucumber, hominy, beans and onion in a large bowl. Toss with some of the vinaigrette and the lemon juice and salt, to your taste. Garnish with the acorn squash, Peruvian popcorn and puffed amaranth. (The red onions can be soaked in water for 15 to 20 minutes, then strained to help remove the raw sulfurous taste.)


Playa Mill Valley
Chef Omar Huerta
Chef Omar Huerta ratchets up Playa Mill Valley’s watermelon salad with beets, snap peas and grapes, before drizzling it with a chili-infused guajillo-arbol vinaigrette. Sweet, spicy and cooling, this salad is a perfect summer refresher.

1 cup champagne vinegar
¼ cup water
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons raw agave
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
¾ teaspoon arbol chili powder
¾ teaspoon guajillo pepper
¾ cup canola oil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds compressed watermelon (method below)
12 ounces golden baby beets, roasted and peeled, halved or quartered
12 ounces mixed red and green seedless grapes, halved
8 ounces snap peas, strings removed
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
2 ounces arugula microgreens
2 ounces red Bull’s Blood beet microgreens

Compressed Watermelon
Peel 1 medium seedless watermelon. Cut into ¾-inch cubes and place in a large ziplock bag. Weigh the bag down with a heavy skillet or cans for 1 hour (or compress in a vacuum-seal machine).

Combine the vinegar, water, shallot, agave, paprika, chili powder and guajillo pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk in the canola and olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Combine the watermelon, roasted beets, grapes and snap peas in a large serving bowl. Add about 1 cup vinaigrette and toss to coat (reserve the remaining vinaigrette for another use). Sprinkle the feta cheese over the salad and garnish with the microgreens.

Berry Crisp


Insalata’s, San Anselmo
Pastry Chef Bruce Johnstone

Got berries? Then this is the dessert for you. Bruce Johnstone created this recipe for our party, and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate the summer season’s berries than with this juicy crisp redolent of citrus.

Lemon Cornmeal Crumble
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cubed
¾ cup rolled oats
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup sugar
¼ cup (packed) brown sugar
1½ teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt

Berry Filling
6 cups assorted berries (raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries or blueberries)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup quick-cooking tapioca
¼ teaspoon salt
Finely grated zest and juice from 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the crumble ingredients in a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Combine the filling ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into a deep 10-inch pie or gratin dish and spread the crumble over the filling. Bake until the juices are bubbling through the crumble and around the edges, 40 to 45 minutes for a convection oven or 50 to 60 minutes for conventional oven. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 25 minutes before serving.

This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Picnic Perfection.” 


Lynda Balslev

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food writer, editor and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She authors the nationally syndicated column and blog TasteFood, and co-authored the cookbook Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture (2015 Silver Medal Winner Independent Publisher Awards). She is the 2011 recipient of the Chronicle Books Award (Recipe Writing) to the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, and a 2018 Fellowship Award recipient to the Symposium for Wine Writers at Meadowood, Napa Valley. Lynda’s writing and photography have been recognized by the New York Times Diners Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post and more.